Around the World with a Total Eclipse of the Moon

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A Guest Post by Stephen Trainor

Whatever you have planned for this weekend, cancel it now.

Saturday Dec 10 2011 sees the last total eclipse of the moon until April 2014 – the last chance to photograph one of nature’s most attractive natural phenomena in over two years.

In this article, we’ll take a brief tour of eclipse science and then look at the sort of photographs that might be possible in five locations around the world – weather permitting.

image01.jpg
Last December’s Total Lunar Eclipse. © Steven Christenson, http://www.starcircleacademy.com. Reproduced by kind permission.

As seen in the image above, during the totality phase of a lunar eclipse, the moon takes on an astonishing red colour. This is caused by the same two effects that are responsible for the vivid reds and oranges seen at sunset: scattering of the sun’s light by particles in the Earth’s atmosphere, and refraction (bending) of the light around the Earth’s surface. Only sunlight that bends around the Earth through the atmosphere reaches the moon at this time.

When Will the Eclipse Occur?

There are many resources available online that will tell you about the timing of the lunar eclipse. Perhaps the most comprehensive is offered by NASA. The Lunar Eclipse Page for 2011 includes an overview of the event and the key times. In addition, a PDF document shows greater detail and a larger scale visibility map.

These are the key times to note:

  • Penumbral Eclipse Begins: 11:33:32 UT
  • Partial Eclipse Begins: 12:45:42 UT 
  • Total Eclipse Begins: 14:06:16 UT 
  • Greatest Eclipse: 14:31:49 UT 
  • Total Eclipse Ends: 14:57:24 UT 
  • Partial Eclipse Ends: 16:17:58 UT 
  • Penumbral Eclipse Ends: 17:30:00 UT

The times are stated in Universal Time (what used to be known as GMT), so you may need to adjust for your own time zone.

During the penumbral eclipse, the moon may appear noticeably dimmer than usual. As the partial eclipse begins, the moon’s disc will begin to disappear. Only as the eclipse enters the totality phase, does the characteristic red colour appear in all its glory.

Around the World

Taking a path from east to west, we’ll now examine what shots might be possible during the eclipse.

Sydney, Australia

Just like last year, December’s eclipse in Sydney is a late night event, starting at around 10:30pm on Saturday, with the total eclipse lasting from 1:06am to 1:57am Sunday morning. 

image02 (1).png

You can use The Photographer’s Ephemeris to scout and plan potential shooting locations for the eclipse (see below for download details).

By the time of totality, the moon will be high in the sky (at an altitude of 32.7°). Shooting options include framing the moon next to the structure of the Sydney Harbour Bridge from a position to the southwest (see screenshot), or alternatively catching it over the Sydney skyline from Hyde Park or Potts Point. If an urban location doesn’t appeal, consider driving to a dark spot away from the city lights to capture a close up of the moon against the night sky with a telephoto lens.

Moscow, Russia

Moscow (and many locations at a similar longitude) will enjoy almost ideal timing for shooting the total eclipse. Totality begins at 6:06pm local time, an hour and 17 minutes after moonrise, when the moon lies relatively low in the twilight sky to the northwest.

image03.png

The sky will be a dark blue during the latter half of nautical twilight, but it will not yet be completely dark. There should be some great opportunities to capture the moon over many of the city’s famous landmarks.

London, England

London, along with much of Western Europe, misses the best of the eclipse this time around. The moon is still set during totality, only rising with 30 minutes of the partial eclipse remaining.

However, the partially eclipsed moon will be rising through the early stages of twilight, providing the possibility of some good colour and tones in the late afternoon sky.

image04.png

Given that you’ll need to catch the rising moon to observe the last of the partial eclipse, the best advice may be to head to higher ground with fewer obstructions from dense inner-city buildings. One option is Greenwich Park in southeast London, or perhaps Blackheath (also nearby).

New York, USA

Like Londoners, New Yorkers will miss out on totality for this eclipse. The moon sets at 7:06am, before totality begins at 9:06am local time. The penumbral eclipse coincides with morning civil twilight (the time when the sun moves from six degrees below the horizon until sunrise), with the moon setting to the northwest.

image05.png

The real challenge with shooting the setting moon in New York will be finding a location with a clear view to the northwest. Unless you can get early morning access to a skyscraper, a shorefront location with a view across water might be the best bet. Beware locations on the west side of Manhattan though, for example Fort Washington Park: the higher land on the New Jersey side makes for only a very small window of opportunity to catch the moon during the penumbral eclipse before it disappears from view.

Cannon Beach, Oregon, USA

For those willing to make an early start this Saturday, the West Coast of the US will enjoy perhaps the best conditions of all. Before dawn and during totality, there will be an unimpeded view of the setting moon over the Pacific.

image06.png

With the total eclipse lasting from 6:06am to 6:57am, you could, for example, capture the moon hanging over the horizon amongst the famous sea stacks at Cannon Beach, Oregon. It should be possible to silhouette the sea stacks against the dawn sky while exposing for the red moon.

As totality ends just before 7am, the last of nautical twilight will usher in the first glow of dawn on the horizon and the moon – for a few seconds – will retain its red glow before brightening as the sun’s direct light reaches it once more.

Shooting the Eclipse

We’ve covered how to plan locations and timing for your eclipse shoot in this article. But a few tips to remember while shooting:

  • The difference in luminosity between the normal moon and the eclipsed moon is large – you’ll need to manage your exposure accordingly
  • The moon is only half a degree in diameter – use a telephoto lens, and try to juxtapose the moon against another object in the frame to maximize visual impact
  • Remember that the moon moves in the sky as the earth rotates: you need to keep your exposure times minimized to maintain a sharp image (use higher ISOs and wider apertures to accomplish this)

Get The Photographer’s Ephemeris

Stephen Trainor has spent the last four years photographing around the southwest US, learning the importance of planning your shots along the way. More at http://www.stephentrainor.com.

Star Circle Academy

Star Circle Academy offers workshops covering all aspect of how to photograph the moon, including lunar eclipses, along with advanced courses on astrophotography.

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Some Older Comments

  • Ayel December 13, 2011 12:08 am

    Here's mine:

    http://aclworld.wordpress.com/2011/12/11/lunar-eclipse-2/

    I'm in the Philippines.

  • Kishan December 12, 2011 03:24 pm

    Thanks DPS for the Wakeup call!! I just had enough time to rent a lens to photograph the Eclipse.
    This is what I came up with ..

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/76601665@N00/6492989963/in/photostream
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/76601665@N00/6492986817/in/photostream/

  • kenny December 12, 2011 05:25 am

    This is what I capured on 10 Dec 2011.

    http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.324080337622045.90127.100000602441410&type=1&l=9e25b5bc9c

  • Sandip Sonawane December 11, 2011 05:20 pm

    This is what I capured on 10 Dec 2011.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/sandipdada/6486837675/in/photostream

  • Judy December 11, 2011 04:25 pm

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/59521842@N06/6490678339/

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/59521842@N06/6490677803/

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/59521842@N06/6490677661/

  • Dhanya Suseelan December 11, 2011 05:38 am

    My attempt at capturing the eclipse.
    Location Mumbai, India.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/8277076@N02/sets/72157628361145329/

  • Dhanya Suseelan December 11, 2011 05:37 am

    My attempt at capturing the eclipse.
    Location Mumbai, India.

  • Mridula December 11, 2011 03:04 am

    Here is a new one, a flight going across the eclipse, I unfortunately had to shoot with a wide angle.

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/2011/12/lunar-eclipse-december-10-2011.html

  • Bob Bevan Smith December 10, 2011 10:09 pm

    Oh darn! Just when I need a clear sky, it's come over all misty in Wellington, New Zealand. Ah well, only a few more years to wait...

  • wayne morrow December 9, 2011 11:02 pm

    Thanks very much for the tips on the settings Bob. l live in Adelaide SA, so l will have to get out and see what l can come up with. Thanks again.

  • Bob Bevan Smith December 9, 2011 06:53 pm

    Use a tripod, and the longest telephoto lens or zoom that you've got. Focus on infinity. Set the camera on manual, set the lens wide open - f4, not f16!. Use a high ISO number such as 800 or 1600 if your camera can take it without too much noise. Bracket your exposures - and try 1/4 then 1/15 then 1/60 and so on, till you get a good exposure.
    You will be surprised how fast the moon moves! Be prepared to frame the shot several times between exposures.
    Download the NASA PDF file mentioned in this article to see whether you will be able to see the eclipse from your site. You do NOT need to be on the coast! (And India will be a great place to be.)
    Finally, vist http://www.heavens-above.com to see where in the sky you can expect to find the Moon (and Jupiter etc.) at any time.
    Good luck!

  • photogrl2020 December 9, 2011 12:23 pm

    Will I be able to see this from my home in northern CA-the Bay Area?? And if so, what time should I be out there looking for it? I'd really love to see it, and ATTEMPT to photograph it-emphasis on ATTEMPT, haha. Any help would be appreciated! Thanks!

    P.S.
    I'm a TOTAL (beyond!) newbie at this type of photography or even knowing how any of this lunar stuff works so please explain in VERY simple words. Please and thank you!! :-)

  • Patricia December 9, 2011 05:45 am

    Ok I'm new to photography but would love to give this a go,I have a cannon550d what settings should I use,
    All suggestions appreciated.

  • Rajinder Kumar Bajaj December 9, 2011 03:28 am

    Look for album Lunar Ecilipse 2011 at following page in Facebook
    Let's Talk Photography

    Thanks!

  • DM|ZE December 9, 2011 03:21 am

    Great info, I wish I could make it to the west coast sometime for this. An in-depth tutorial for The Photographer’s Ephemeris might be a great article for this site... hint hint.

  • Barry E.Warren December 9, 2011 01:55 am

    How lucky am I to have a lunar eclipse on my birthday. The only problem is I live on the east coast of the US. I'll probably will miss the hole thing. I guess I'll have to shoot whatever, but to think of it I will have a full moon.

  • raghavendra December 8, 2011 05:20 pm

    This has made me to change all the plans for this week end!
    http://raghavendra-mobilephotography.blogspot.com/
    indeed a good article
    And an alert for all!

  • Mridula December 8, 2011 03:20 pm

    Here are some of my Lunar Eclipse pictures that happened in India on June 15-16 2011. I wonder if there is anything in India this time.

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/2011/06/total-lunar-eclipse-june-15-16-2011-gurgaon-india.html

  • Average Joe December 8, 2011 01:23 pm

    Aw man. I've never actually seen an eclipse of any kind, and that picture makes me want to a lot. Too bad I don't live on the coasts. :( guess i'll have to wait till 2014. Thanks for the tips!

  • Erik Kerstenbeck December 8, 2011 09:57 am

    Wow

    Great tips and advice - will have my trusty Nikon D7000 and Telephoto handy! Thanks

    Erik
    Kerstenbeck Photographic Art

    http://kerstenbeckphotoart.wordpress.com/

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